One of the greatest increases in animosity towards Christians last year took place in India as a result of religiously motivated nationalism, according to the latest annual survey of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Since the rise to power of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, India has gradually increased its ranking and is now placed 15th on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List. (Open Doors is an international organisation which has researched and supported Christians under pressure for their faith for over 60 years.)
Several other Asian countries also rose up the list, with Afghanistan up one place to 3rd, Pakistan up two places to 4th, Bangladesh up nine places to 26th, Bhutan up eight to 30th and Sri Lanka joining the list at No. 45. Nepal narrowly missed being in the top 50, although the situation for Christians there still worsened.
Countries on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List
Click on a country to see its placement
“A stand-out trend is that religious nationalism is driving the Asian countries up the list,” said Dr. Ron Boyd-MacMillan, Director for Strategic Research at Open Doors. “It’s a long-term trend, it’s been gathering pace since the 1990s when nobody bothered to notice it. But this year, I think it’s really come into its own. It is most visible in India; India is at its highest position on the World Watch List ever. The Hindu extremists are really in power, and a mob can do what they like in India, and it’s a large Church so there are a lot of incidents.”
North Korea once again tops the list, while Somalia rises from seventh to second. Nine of the top 10 were among the top 10 on the previous year’s list. Yemen’s arrival among the top 10 displaced Libya, which now is No. 11. Somalia (2), Afghanistan (3), Pakistan (4), Sudan (5), and Iran (8) each rose in the rankings; Syria (6) and Iraq (7) fell slightly.
Christians are a “small and vulnerable minority” in the majority of the countries on the list, according to Open Doors. In 41 of the top 50 countries, they comprise less than 15% of the population; in 27 countries, less than 5%.
Islamic oppression remains the most common cause of pressure against Christians and it is rising most sharply in Africa, where more people are killed for their Christian faith than anywhere else in the world. As extremist Islam spreads across Africa westwards from Somalia, almost every country from Kenya upwards is affected.
An increasingly common form of religious persecution is the deliberate sabotage of homes, churches and villages by extremists aiming to eradicate Christianity from a particular area. This is widely seen in northern Nigeria, Syria and Iraq where, after people have been driven out, homes have been ransacked, churches destroyed and village water sources poisoned.
In Nigeria, cattle are deliberately stolen and crops burned, which makes returning home all but impossible unless significant aid and investment is pumped into the area of need. In addition, frequent so called “lone-wolf” attacks by extremists make those equipped to effect change, and to rebuild, fearful for their safety and the safety of their families.
Take a glimpse inside the countries where Christian persecution is most severe. Video shows the top 5, in reverse order:
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